Stefan Zweig, born November 28, 1881, Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire [now in Austria], is the writer who achieved distinction in several genres—poetry, essays, short stories, and dramas—most notably in his interpretations of imaginary and historical characters.
Zweig was raised in Vienna. His first book, a volume of poetry, was published in 1901. He received a doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1904 and traveled widely in Europe before settling in Salzburg, Austria, in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide.
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Zweig’s interest in psychology and the teachings of Sigmund Freud led to his most characteristic work, the subtle portrayal of character. Zweig’s essays include studies of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Drei Meister, 1920; Three Masters) and of Friedrich Hölderlin, Heinrich von Kleist, and Friedrich Nietzsche (Der Kampf mit dem Dämon, 1925; Master Builders). He achieved popularity with Sternstunden der Menschheit (1928; The Tide of Fortune), five historical portraits in miniature. He wrote full-scale, intuitive rather than objective, biographies of the French statesman Joseph Fouché (1929), Mary Stuart (1935), and others. His stories include those in Verwirrung der Gefühle (1925; Conflicts). He also wrote a psychological novel, Ungeduld des Herzens (1938; Beware of Pity), and translated works of Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Émile Verhaeren.
Die Schweigsame Frau / The Silent Woman
Richard Strauss’ Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman) might be the only opera in the entire oeuvre with a central character who dislikes music. Sir Morosus, a retired British naval officer is allergic to noise of any kind. He disinherits his nephew Henry for joining an opera troupe and for marrying an actress. When Morosus’ barber Schneidebart suggests that Morosus should find a quiet wife, Henry conceives of a plan to regain his uncle’s favor. Henry’s wife, “Aminta,” under the guise of “Timidia” mimics a quiet young thing, and once married to Morosus turns into a shrieking harridan! Strauss declared it the “best libretto for a comic opera since Figaro,” and it was the Austrian playwright Stefan Zweig who adopted the story from Ben Jonson’s comedy “Epicoene.” The circumstances leading up to the premiere on 24 June 1935, however, were not funny at all!
Zweig, who was Jewish, had finished the libretto in January 1933, the very month Hitler came to power. With works by Jews prohibited from German stages, the press began to attack Strauss on this issue. Strauss refused to withdraw the opera and set up the premiere for Dresden, resulting in an internal power struggle within the Nazi government. Since neither Goebbels nor Rosenberg would take the responsibility, the matter was referred to Hitler, who personally informed Strauss that the opera could proceed. An effort to keep Zweig’s name off the playbills for the premiere was overturned by Strauss, and Hitler decided to stay away from the successful premiere performance. A short time later, however, the Gestapo intercepted a letter from Strauss to Zweig urging him to collaborate on future operas and to publically air his critical views of the Nazi regime. Hitler was not amused and after three more performances, Die Schweigsame Frau was banned. Zweig had already left Germany—eventually committing suicide in Brazil in 1942—and Strauss was told to resign as president of the Reichsmusikkammer (State Music Bureau) on grounds of ill health. Given all these serious trials and tribulations, it is entirely consistent that Die schweigsame Frau contains some of Strauss’ lightest music for the stage!
World Premiere – 6/24/1935
Sächsisches Staatstheater Opernhaus, Dresden
Conductor: Karl Böhm
Company: Dresden State Opera
SIR MOROSUS Bass
AMINTA, his wife Soprano
CARLOTTA Mezzo Soprano
Time and Place
A room in Sir Morosus’s house in a London suburb, about 1780
A rich, retired admiral, Sir John Morosus, cannot bear noise of any kind, particularly his garrulous housekeeper, so his barber suggests she should be replaced by a quiet young wife. Sir John argues that a silent woman cannot exist and that he is too old to marry. His long-lost nephew Henry appears in pursuit of an inheritance and Sir John believes he has found alternative companionship. However, Henry is married to Aminta, a member of an operatic troupe, and his uncle has no time for such noisy activity. He dismisses the troupe, disinherits Henry and demands the Barber finds a silent woman for the next day. The Barber and Henry hatch a plan and present Sir John with three possible brides (the opera troupe in disguise). Sir John rejects the clumsy peasant (Carlotta) and the bluestocking (Isotta) but falls in love with the quietest called Timidia (Aminta). But as soon as the marriage is sealed her raucous true nature emerges – and she wants to buy a pet parrot. Henry promises to arrange an annulment of the marriage, but Timidia will not accept any bribes as she wants to remain Lady Morosus. Sir John’s divorce petition fails but at his point of total despair the deception is revealed. His initial fury turns to laughter and the troupe salute him. Aminta offers daughterly love and Sir John is content to accept Henry as his heir: “A rare delight it is to find a silent, beautiful girl, but it is more delightful when she belongs to another man”.
Source: Boosey and Hawkes